“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) Jesus teaches us with an intriguing comparison.
For most of my ministry I’ve taught this verse like: We know how important we are to ourselves, don’t we?
We lavish ourselves with special treatment. We’re enamored with our own opinion. We want to be first in line, ahead of everyone else even those less privileged. We expect special treatment. We think our armpits don’t stink. Our child deserves a starting position on the soccer team no matter how terrible they are at dribbling or defending.
I’ve described a sinful, self-love that is altogether true, but meditating on this verse, it hit me: Why would Jesus tell us to love others with a sinful love?
That doesn’t make sense. So it got me thinking: Is there a good self-love? Can it be godly to love ourselves? Absolutely! And this is where Jesus starts when he wants us to love our neighbor.
A healthy self-love is righteous, full of God, and clearly based on a person’s true identity in Christ, designed and adopted by God. Do you love God? Do you love what he creates? Of course, and that includes you.
Now, here’s the rub. We too easily and too frequently treat ourselves like trash. We beat ourselves up. We punish ourselves with guilt and convince ourselves that we can’t ever compare to those other wonderful people God loves.
Then we act this out in our behaviors and habits.
I think of the guy who hates himself for being a failure of a father, wasting his kids’ childhood years and watching them grow up, go to college, get married and become parents, too. So much regret and unresolved fear and shame. He can’t face genuine, authentic conversations with his son or daughter about parenting or finances or life, so he gah-gahs all over his grandkids. Every FaceTime call. Every visit. It’s all about the grandkids. Because he hates himself.
He’s still not loving his kids, because he can’t love himself. He doesn’t see his Father’s forgiving love, doesn’t grab onto the cross of Christ with a grip tighter than he grabs his Glock 19, doesn’t seek the leadership of the Holy Spirit in his faith life. He just accepts that he’s a lost and condemned sinner.
Can you see this? How can this guy be a great dad and grandpa, an awesome friend, a winner of a husband, a success at work? By real, godly self-love. By seeing himself as God sees him.
That’s what Jesus is challenging us to do with this teaching. The hard part isn’t loving others. That’s easy, if you can at first love yourself the way God loves you.
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, you open my eyes to a self-love that is godly and good. You call me from being my own worst enemy, and comfort me by drawing me close to the Father. I am his child forever. Lead me to love others like I love myself. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: When King David loved himself too little, too much, or too inappropriately he acted out in bad behavior. Like what? When he loved himself appropriately, as God loved him, “after God’s own heart,” he acted out in good, loving behavior. Like what?